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Pitt safety escapes mean Brooklyn streets

Nothing that happens on a football field will ever rattle Pitt sophomore safety Jason Hendricks.

He's come too far and seen too much.

Hendricks grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, one of the most notorious neighborhoods in New York City.

"There are a lot of people that didn't make it to the right path," he said. "I am lucky that I got out of there."

Hendricks worked hard to make the most of himself.

He started playing football when he was 7 for the Brooklyn Skyhawks Midget team.

For four years, he commuted an hour each way to Hudson (N.J.) Catholic, taking the A train to lower Manhattan, transferring to a Jersey City-bound train and finally walking about four blocks to his school.

The daily trips were an adventure for the young Hendricks; he once fell asleep on the subway and ended up lost somewhere in Manhattan.

But it was worth it. The football field was a departure from the violent, crime-ridden streets of Bed-Stuy.

Hendricks remembers the time he witnessed a shooting and nearly got hit by a stray bullet.

"I'll never forget this," he said. "We were outside by the park. I was hanging out with my friends, flirting with girls. We heard gunshots at the corner and we saw this dude drop. We started running and the dude next to me got shot (in the leg). He got caught with a stray bullet. I'm glad it wasn't me. I was 15. I was scared."

Hendricks missed a couple of practices last week with a toe injury, but he has returned to practice and will be the starting "bandit" safety when Pitt opens the 2011 season against visiting Buffalo on Sept. 3.

His local high school, Bedford Academy, didn't have a football team, and the Brooklyn schools that offered the sport — only 19 of the borough's 85 high schools and academies sponsor football — weren't high caliber in the basketball-crazed city.

So, Lenora Hendricks enrolled her son in Hudson Catholic, where he became a star running back and linebacker.

"My mother just wanted me to get out of the neighborhood," Hendricks said. "She wanted something new for me, and I just went with it. She felt it was the best for me, and I agreed with her."

Hendricks rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and scored 28 touchdowns as a senior at Hudson, but he wasn't a high-profile recruit. He picked Pitt over schools such as Temple, Central Michigan and Akron.

After redshirting in 2009, he started five games last year and totaled 42 tackles with three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.

The hard-hitting Hendricks combines with free safety Jarred Holley as part of what assistant Tony Gibson calls the best secondary he has ever coached.

"Jason is very physical," Gibson said. "He gets downhill. He has good cover skills. I really like the way he plays."

First-year coach Todd Graham said he has challenged Hendricks to become more vocal.

"I think Jason is starting to become a complete player," Graham said. "He's very athletic, very gifted."

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